Billions of Dollars More for Their ABC

Even if we ignore the ABC’s tendency to indulge fringe issues and groupthink — panels that shun intellectual and political diversity, nakedly political campaigns presented as straight-bat reporting and journalists pursuing personal vendettas — the matter of its funding remains an issue of principle. How should your hard-earned tax dollars be spent? Should those funds really be used to fund TV dramas, alleged comedies, left-stacked panels and newsrooms. and to hire the spouses and partners of those already on the payroll? The notion is absurd, yet government of both stripes celebrate the idea.

Yet last week, the government bestowed $3.3 billion on the national broadcast to underwrite all of the above sins of omission and commission for another three years. One can only wonder if those opening the purse strings are in the least aware of commercial operators’ success in offering the viewing public what it wants, plus a media landscape absolutely transformed by technology.

The profound popularity of television has been no secret since 1956, when Australians first gathered to marvel at the black-and-white screen in the corner of the room. Since then, we have sat through ads too numerous too count in order to follow the programs we favoured. Yet, somehow, the success of commercial TV seems to have been forgotten by the policy buffs who believe the ABC’s survival depends on subsidies. TV isn’t the only thing Australians value that manages to chug along sans-subsidy; people find utility and value in just about everything on the private market. Commercial viability means something doesn’t need subsidies; indeed, commercial popularity presents an incontrovertible argument against them. Likewise, a media outlet’s trustworthiness — a purported quality the ABC, no doubt with fingers crossed and tongue jammed in po-faced cheek, is always keen to extol — is no justification for government funding. Plenty of private companies are trusted by Australians and yet receive no assistance.

Were there no public broadcaster, arguing to establish one in 2022 would be near impossible. Generally, government intervention is justified under the guise of resolving market failures. But with such a saturation of content readily available, how can anyone argue a public broadcaster meets the criteria?

In 2022, digital entertainment comes as close to a perfect market as possible, outside of an economics textbook. Consumers can know what TV series and movies are on a streaming services before subscribing, and the costs across competing services can be easily compared. If at any time a subscriber is unhappy with the content, he or she can cancel. The ABC is the obligatory subscription service from which you can’t unsubscribe, no matter how much you may want to.

If the establishment of a public broadcaster can’t be justified under modern market conditions then neither can its continuation. 

Public broadcasting is a public policy failure of the 20th century that need not be a failure of the 21st century. The ABC must be privatised and this area of government overreach ended. Even if it embodied perfect balance, which it most certainly does not, there would still be no reasonable justification for public TV in Australia.

It isn’t unusual for the ABC to cop accusations of being prejudiced. But our national broadcaster’s political bias is a red herring when it comes to conversations about it’s future: Rather than handing further billions of dollars to the national broadcaster, it’s time to privatise it.

24 thoughts on “Billions of Dollars More for Their ABC

  • DougD says:

    What’s wrong with making the ABC a subscription service as it was before radio and TV licences were abolished by, I think, the Whitlam government. That would take a bit of political courage by Morrison. But I doubt that it would lose him any votes, just as increasing ABC funding certainly won’t gain him any new votes.

  • Adam J says:

    Commercial television by nature caters for the lowest common denominator. The ABC can and should do better but trying to defend the worse broadcasters is a strange way of encouraging it. The ABC remains very popular amongst the public so this is a go-nowhere idea

  • John Cook says:

    Adam, your first sentence is very elitist. And it doesn’t lessen Samuel’s point that commercial TV survives without subsidy.

  • ChrisPer says:

    Shut it down.
    Fire them all.
    Even if you burned the money in a big bonfire of fifties, you would not be subsidising destructive ideology as much as the ABC harms our society.

  • Doubting Thomas says:

    The ABC was never a “subscription” service. It was more accurately a “conscription” service in that annual broadcast licence fees were compulsory for every household and other listeners, whether they tuned into the ABC or not. It was always an imitation of the British system but, unlike the BBC situation in the UK, the ABC has never had exclusive broadcasting rights. In fact, the ABC appeared on the scene after commercial stations were well-established.
    There was a time when the ABC deserved to be respected, but that time is now in the dim mists of history. As the late, great Geoffrey Luck recounted in his contributions to this journal, the advent of Allan Ashbolt and other dedicated Marxists who gained control of the ABC’s recruitment and training in the 1960s led to radical leftist political bias becoming firmly entrenched in News and Current Affairs where it continues to dominate to this day.
    Taxpayers should never have to support an uncontrolled political organisation operating under the camouflage of a “pubic broadcaster”.

  • Doubting Thomas says:

    Ooooops, “public broadcaster”.

  • tommbell says:

    Ooooops, “public broadcaster”.

    No. Think you were closer to the truth first ime…

  • wdr says:

    Why on earth is a Coalition government doing this? Is Morrsion stupid, or what?

  • Elizabeth Beare says:

    In the time before an election, a perceived ‘threat’ to the ABC would be playing into Labor’s hands; it would be beaten-up for all it was worth, because the old cachet of the ABC still exists for many middle-road. Nevertheless, a short sharp rap on the funding knuckes would be well in order rather than the financial tongue-bath on offer from the Libs. A funding cut could be justified in terms of ‘Covid belt-tightening’ and also serve to show some faith to the Liberal base who are sick of the politicised ABC to the point of a regular metaphoric shoe-throwing shattering their TV screens. A privatisation could thus be left till somewhat later, post an electoral win, after a full public discussion about how antiquated ‘public broadcasting’ was in these multi-media days, with all reasons given and argued.
    Scott Morrison is hardly thinking strategically on this.

  • Daffy says:

    The first step could be semi-commercialisation akin to SBS; which sets the precedent.
    Then regional services could be tendered to regional networks as a regional jobs boost and further cultural buildup of country towns. Incidentally, during the NSW South Coast fires in 2019 a friend resident in their midst related to me the far more useful reports from the local radio station compared to the ABC that kept drifting off to events in South Australia, adverts for other programs and distracting commentary.
    Then the duplication with commercial networks could be scaled back (Covid belt-tightening). Finally, they need a board that does its job…a few offenses in the ABC Act might help keep it on course.

  • March says:

    Nominate the Turnbull-Morrison period as the worst in Australian history. Worse than Rudd Gillard Rudd.

  • Stephen Due says:

    User pays should be the objective. There is no justification for a government funded broadcaster in this day and age. Could proceed in steps. But needs to be agreed in principle, and needs strong leadership to face down the howling banshees of the Left.

  • Adam J says:

    John Cook, commercial stations survive precisely because they cater to the lowest common denominator. No organisation dedicated to profit will ever do anything but, or at least hardly ever. If recognising this is elitist then so be it. Do we really need another commercial station filled with reality TV and other rubbish? At least a public broadcaster can potentially do better, as the ABC did in the past.
    I still want to know why in this day and age I have to watch Channel 7 for the Olympics. It should be streamed to my computer for a fee. Same for any sport. But that blatant neoliberalism never gets a run here.

  • ianl says:

    This conversation is basically an updated version of the medieval debate on the number of angels that can crowd a pinhead. Commercial broadcasting caters to its’ polled audiences – as does the ABC. So ?

    None of them serve any notion of objective “news” reporting. On the “news” front, all just indulge their powerlust. As a current example, find any factual, ongoing story in the Aus MSM on the Canadian trucker protest. This is very big actual news but is not to be seen or heard here in any accurate detail on any outlet. That applies to Kenny, Credlin, Bolt etc in spades. In ignoring this, the MSM again demonstrate they have no purpose apart from serving their own interests.

    The enemy of the people …

  • Ian MacKenzie says:

    The nature of the Morrison government is becoming clearer with each decision they make. These decisions, now including guaranteeing funding for Green-Left ABC propaganda, are almost entirely aimed at placating the left. No doubt this is intended to be pragmatic. Afterall no one could claim that Morrison has principles beyond short-term expediency. Therefore, the choice in the next election is becoming clearer as well. We can have socialism quickly with Albo, or socialism slowly with Morrison.
    The federal Liberal party has consistently moved left ever since the defenestration of Tony Abbott, to the point that it is significantly out of sync with Liberal voters. Can anyone nominate anything that Morrison has done for the Conservatives who voted for him last time around? Consequently, the drift among conservative voters towards minor parties evident in 2019 is likely to become a flood at the next election. We will need to prepare ourselves for a Green-Left government later this year, with Albanese’s “small target” strategy meaning there will be plenty of unpleasant surprises over the next three years.

  • Peter Marriott says:

    PM Morrison is very much the middle of the road pragmatist type when it comes to his politics, but at the end of the day his roots would have to be individualist, private enterprise conservative’ist. Albanese has always seemed up to his eyeballs a lefty socialist in my thinking, with a Marx somewhere inside him, always trying to get out. I think he would be destructive and disastrous for Australia & everyone in this country, other than those of similar ilk to himself, which says it all for me, even though I know the minor parties are probably going to get plenty of votes. If they do manage to actually get a few seats maybe the old pragmatist can put together a coalition……anything to keep the Marxist type out. I also reflect a bit on how they all seem to be able to snatch billions ( trillions in Biden’s case ) pretty well out of thin air to fund all their ‘pork barrelling’. Is it the fabled ‘modern economic theory’ I ask myself.
    If they all really had to make an effort to balance the books, none of these give aways would be possible, and they’d all have to come back much, much closer to their true party roots I think ?


    The ABC and SBS are the propaganda arm of the government and serve those who cannot think for themselves. The commercial channels are run to the specifications and whims of their sponsors and mostly feature innane advertisements featuring politically correct, multicultural stereotypes of family situations where frequently each family member is of a different ethnic origin and more often than not the male participant, representing the father figure, behaves like a low wattage, dim bulb. Television is, surely by now, passé as a medium conveying knowledge and entertainment. As such it has been ruined long ago by government and commercial sponsors. Television has whithered on the vine. Nothing to see here!

  • pgang says:

    But it’s easily justifiable within a socialist cargo-cult democracy.

  • Laurie Smith says:

    I believe Daffy is right by taking a moderate approach to ABC reform. The current ABC model needs renewal for the modern world. As a conservative, I believe the diminishing good parts of the ABC should remain and the odd and subversive be discarded. What will be left is unclear, but the process will be good for the country in the longer term. Whom will judge which are the good parts is something a low courage government cannot do.
    It is likely we will have an absolute minimum of three more years of the same but more like six more years if Labor gains power. If Labor/Greens stay in power for six years. It will be nine years before anyone’s can do anything about the ABC bias.

    I hope I am wrong.

  • Michael Waugh says:

    Adam J, it is not merely that the ABC can do better, presently it is positively harmful to the social fabric : if it did not instigate, it certainly fanned and inflamed a vicious lynch-mob attitude against Cardinal Pell and the Catholic Church, it is anti-religion in general, it overwhelmingly promotes one extreme view about the very complex issue of climate change, it overwhelmingly or strongly supports extreme authoritarian views of compulsory vaccination, compulsory mask-wearing, and locking down the population, it actively promotes false or highly contentious versions of Australian history, and the nonsense of Pascoe. Its political bias is shamelessly overt. The ABC is the antithesis of balanced, well-informed, reporting. I have not made up my mind that we should abolish it outright, but something needs to be done drastically and urgently. The first step is for conservatives to unite in one voice that the institution is off the rails and, unless it can be safely put back on track, it must be abolished. We cannot be forced to fund its positively harmful propaganda.

  • Michael Waugh says:

    I’ve just read an article on UnHerd by Dominic Sandbrook “Nothing can save the BBC” where he points out that the origins of that institution was a commercial monopoly of 6 large radio companies clubbing together for profit from a new innovation. Apparently the Johnson government is considering dropping the compulsory licence fee and introducing a subscription model. Those posting comments after the article make similar complaints about the BBC as we do about the ABC and some point out that well-informed , high-quality reporting is found in multiple places outside the government broadcaster . And, of course, that is very true : Quadrant, The Spectator, UnHerd, Quillette, Sky, Epoch, and many others. Will the British debate help the Coalition see the light ?

  • whitelaughter says:

    I’ve started responding to emails and facebook posts by Coalition members by saying that since they have decided to hand the ABC $3 billion, they must be very happy with it and so I will trust the ABC’s opinion of the Coalition.
    No responses yet.
    I doubt any of them are awake enough to think through what they’ve done.

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